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Last Updated, Aug 2010


Phoebe Wray

    by Phoebe Wray

    Edge Publishing 2008.
    Trade paper, ISBN 978-1-894063-40-1, $15.95

    The role of reviewers is to get the consumer past first impressions. That often means debunking trailers that portray name actors in the three good moments in an otherwise hopeless big budget film; or, as now, reassuring readers that there is a decent book behind that weak cover. The cover for Jemma7729 has two strikes against it: cover art that is an amateurishly executed adolescent wetdream, completely wrong for the feminist text within; and a title that is one of the great clichˇs of bad SF -- using numbers for names is such an obvious expression of dehumanization, that it is second only to giant ants as the ultimate bureaucratic metaphor.

    But once past the cover, things get a lot better. The opening paragraph is adequate, if not immediately engaging, and if the reader sticks with the story until the second paragraph, they can get a good sense of the tone and direction of the story. Of course, one has to get past the paragraph on page 3 where the author officially introduces the nearly insurmountable numbers-as-name clichˇ, but I think it safe to assume that the reader -- having already necessarily set that aside to get even this far -- can make it to page four, and it's pretty much clear sailing from then on.

The story presents the first-person narrative of a feminist revolutionary in a dystopian future, as she recalls her life from age 5 until she concludes her career as the 'face' of the revolution. One major strength of the book is the balance struck between keeping the plot moving, and providing enough detail for each of the crucial incidents in her life to adequately illustrate both character development and the evils of the society she ultimately works to over-throw. Wray does an excellent job of knowing exactly when to say, "and so it went for the next six months", and when to slow down for the nitty-gritty details.

And some of the scenes are pretty gritty. Again, Wray does an excellent job of allowing the reader to experience the routine injustice, corruption and incompetence of this Orwellian future America, without ever getting too preachy that -- hello! -- she's really writing about current injustice and patriarchy. One has to be cautious labeling a work as feminist, lest the average SF fan push the book back on the shelf in a panic (or more radical feminist critics complain that the novel's discourse is still too conservative), but I donÕt think that there is anything in here that would overly challenge, say, Honor Harrington fans. In the end, Jemma7729 is a good solid action adventure novel, well worth the $16 price of admission.

And speaking of endings: One of the things that always intrigues me about books from Edge, is why foreign writers -- in this case an American -- would seek out a Canadian publisher. And once again, I'm reassured to find that it is not that Jemma7729 was not good enough for the big American SF houses -- in fact it beats the crap out of 75% of the stuff currently on the shelves -- but that it shares with Canadian SF some of those characteristics that make mass-market publishers nervous. In this case, I'm guessing that it was the ambivalent "does this count as winning or losing?" ending of the sort that typically drives American critics crazy, but which Canadians seem to take in stride, that did it.

I have to confess that I was a bit ambivalent about the ending at first myself, but the more I've thought about it, the more I've come to accept that it was the only possible conclusion given the implicit themes of the novel. And it is not just the ending that has grown on me: I was initially going to complain about a couple of the shootouts where our heroine seems to escape too easily, but as the book progresses and the reader comes to realize just how incompetent the administration is, Jemma's early successes make much more sense. So another excellent title from Edge books, well worth picking up -- just carry it with the back cover facing up.

Reprinted from NeoOpsis Magazine #14